Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: Observe and Report (2009)

Observe and Report (2009)

Rated R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence

Observe and Report is probably the least "accessible" film of Seth Rogen's career. It was a much darker film than the broad comedy it was marketed as, serving less as a yuk-fest like Paul Blart: Mall Cop (which it was often compared to, seeing as it came out just three months later) and more as an exploration of a dangerously unhinged guy on a power trip. It doesn't succeed all the way through, but it's still a well-made film that's elevated by some solid performances, especially Rogen in one of the first indications that he could do a lot more than the frat-bro comedies he came to be typecast with. It's not for everyone, not by any means, but if you go in knowing what it's actually about, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised and rewarded, even with its problems.

Rogen plays Ronnie, the chief of security at a shopping mall in New Mexico. He has a crush on Brandi (Anna Faris), the young lady who works at the cosmetics counter at a department store, and he's trying to catch both a serial flasher and a mysterious burglar who have been causing trouble recently, feuding with the police detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) who's trying to do the same -- and in Ronnie's mind, encroaching on "his jurisdiction". The plot, however, is peripheral. What the film is really about is watching Ronnie wallow in his own delusions of badass heroism. He is the "mall ninja" brought to life on film -- a man who thinks being the head of security at a mall makes him an authority figure on the same level as a detective (while at the same time wishing he could be a real cop), who harasses business owners and shoppers alike, whose faux-chivalry to women like Brandi and the coffee shop barista Nell (Collette Wolfe) is pretty much an excuse to get into their pants, and who obsesses over martial arts and guns with his buddies and wishes he could carry firearms on the job. He is a sad, pathetic human being, this film only being a "comedy" in how it invites us to laugh at him. Trust me, this is a dark, dark movie, and I can't spoil half the places it goes. Rogen is excellent, nailing this sort of power-tripping douchebag who's still stuck in adolescence with his fantasies of being a badass, and he's got a great supporting cast backing him up. Ray Liotta was the sane man, a guy who's as sick of Ronnie's shit as anybody in his position would be, while Anna Faris and Collette Wolfe both serve as dark twists on the sort of love interests that you'd expect in these sorts of movies. The standout in the rest of the cast, though, was Michael Peña, who, in his brief role, easily proves to be a match for Rogen as a guy who's more than willing to call Ronnie out yet is just as spectacularly screwed-up in his own ways.

Alas, the film's greatest failing is that it can't seem to decide whether to laugh at Ronnie or validate him. While he's quite clearly presented as mentally unhinged, he is still, in the end, a hero, catching the crook and getting the girl. And for all his psychological problems, it turns out that his martial arts expertise is the real deal instead of some "bull-shido" he got at some strip mall McDojo, as he's shown to be quite capable of taking on multiple attackers with his bare hands. For all of its legitimate edge and bite in the first hour, Observe and Report fails to follow through in the end. Had Ronnie screwed up, bumbled his way into triumph, or grown as a character and learned how to be an actual badass, I could've bought it as either a dark satire or a complete story. Instead, we're shown, over the course of the last twenty minutes, that he's the real deal, and always was. While the sequence itself was probably one of the funniest moments in the film on its own, as a conclusion to the film's story it felt weak, and went against everything that had been established.

Score: 3 out of 5

It's very much unlike a typical Seth Rogen flick, it kind of falls apart towards the end, and some may find its sense of humor too dark to laugh at, but for those in the right mindset to enjoy something like this, it's worth a watch. It definitely beats Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

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